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Adventurers & Explorers

Jun 21, 2018

#VanLife Meets Sailing: A Tom and Sofia Update, One Year Later

Tom de Dorlodot is a professional paraglider & paramotoring pilot, partnering with companies such as Red Bull, Volkswagen, Garmin and Patagonia. Sofia is Argentinian, born in Paraguay and the daughter of a diplomat, making her more than familiar with a lifetime of travelling

WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

We think they’re a pretty cool couple. 

On the 21st June 2017, The Outdoor Journal published a story about Thomas de Dorlodot and Sofia Pineiro. Having come from a VanLife, they were taking to the sea. The plan? To find the most beautiful places on the planet to paraglide, dive and surf.

Meanwhile, they would welcome professional athletes and friends to join them along the way. Their only goal? Seek intensity. We caught up with them last week, to find out how they are getting on.

You can read the original article from last year here, or alternatively check out the Search Projects video below.

TOJ: “Seek Intensity”, that’s the quote you left us with last year as your main objective. How did that go? What were your most ‘intense’ moments? Do you have one in particular you can share with us?

Tom: The year has been hectic. When we left Belgium, we didn’t know it at the time, but we really had no clue about sailing! I couldn’t even hold the helm. I was not even sure that I could take the boat out of the marina. So we left Brussels with a few friends that could sail, a bit better than us, and basically it’s been a year of learning, with all the possible mistakes you could make on a sailboat. But we didn’t break anything, so that’s good. 

Sofia: In the beginning, it was a good and a bad thing for us that we started with the worst conditions. With no experience, and difficult weather to navigate, we had to learn fast and adapt quickly. We developed good processes and reflexes on board. These were good lessons to learn early on.

Benoit Delfosse

Tom: One of the best moments was arriving in the Azores. It is just an incredible place, a very wild island. I remember one moment in particular, when we woke up in the morning and were sailing towards Faial. In a very calm sea, a whale came out of the water just a few meters away from the boat and exhaled, we got so wet. The whale just came out and pshht, we took all the humidity and the water in our faces. It was really crazy, it was the first time we really saw a whale that close to the boat. And then, the next day we saw ten sperm whales, dolphins everywhere, it was just incredible. We love the Azores so much that we actually found a piece of land there in Horta with a small ruin on it; when we finish our travels, we will build a house there.

TOJ: How did this year on a boat differ from the ‘van life’ you were doing before? Have you adjusted? Do you have a preference between one or the other, which and why?

Sofia: The boat life, by far. There are many similarities between the two lifestyles, but not when you compare driving for 10 hours or sailing for 10 hours. When you sail you’re always outside, the air is pure, you leave no harm behind you and it’s just you in the middle of this huge ocean. I think that is quite unique.

Tom: You also don’t need gas, that’s a good thing. Most of the time we have the wind in our sails, and it’s silent, you can just choose your own line in the water. It’s different when you’re on the road and you have to respect speed limits and red lights. The freedom of being able change plans in any moment is an amazing feeling. For example, we were in Dublin yesterday, and then for a moment you consider, “Why not go to England” and BOOM, you cross the sea and you go to England. You cannot replaces this feeling of freedom, knowing that the Azores were only 7 days away, which might look far, but you learn to travel at a different speed.

Tom de Dorlodot

When you walk in the mountains, ski, or cycle through a country, you have the time to see things, to meet people. It’s the same with a boat, because you don’t do long distances but everyday you’re in a different place. There’s also the sporty side to it; taking care of a 12-meter sailboat when in heavy conditions can be challenging, but very exciting.

Sofia: It’s common to experience strange feelings too, you reach land after a couple of days without being in a city, and you feel like an alien! You need a few hours to re-adapt and kind of act “normal” again.

Yann Verstraeten

Tom: The boat is actually a very good way to disconnect. It’s a bit like high altitudes in the mountains. You leave the coast, and you’re out there by yourself. The higher in the mountains you travel, the less people you meet. We have a lot of time to read, and we don’t need a watch or clock; we eat when we’re hungry, we sleep when we’re tired. Of course, it also comes with a few downsides. We have to take care of the boat, and the pictures you see on Instagram is the “glossy part”, but also we have problems, the boat took water a few times, we broke things.

“The good thing is that when you leave land, you only think about one thing: to come back. And when you’re back, you only think about leaving again.”

You always want to be on the move, and it’s great because when you come back to the land you get a good shower again, you appreciate the simple things. The restaurants, nice food, and sitting on a bench that doesn’t move around.

TOJ: How is the boat? and let’s talk about the SEARCH project.

Tom: The boat is doing really well. We expected to have a few problems, because it was out of the water for 7 years and we worked for 8 months to fix it. Now it’s in super good shape, everything is fine so we think it’s the perfect tool for moving efficiently from one place to the other.

Benoit Delfosse

Regarding the SEARCH project, it’s a very large search. The goal is to try to find the best places in the world to fly, we’ve encountered many places and made a good start. From the moment we landed in Gran Canaria (Canary Islands) and talked to the local pilots, we couldn’t stop grinning.

“One of the guys said that no one had crossed the island from one side to the other, they thought it was impossible. 2 days later, we did it.”

For us, it’s pretty cool to be able to arrive by boat, with the gliders, take them out and make a flight that local people have been dreaming about doing for years. It was a great moment. However, we’re not only looking for flying places, we’re also looking to continue to learn and to get to know new people.

Sofia: Gliding is taking a new dimension, there’s the sport side of it, but also the discovery when you find a new place, with a new culture. We also have the mission to not only show the beauty of our planet to the world. Having seen the bad things about the environment and pollution, we want to convey these findings to others. Try to expand the community awareness, for example by having a group of scientists coming onboard.

Benoit Delfosse

Tom: At the end of the day, it’s all about sharing. We are happy to invite people onboard, we had Simon Charrière, who is a professional skier, sponsored by Patagonia, recently. We had Gaetan Doligez who is an alpinist. These guys come onboard and they share their stories, and then they touch their own community. We now feel that we have more responsibility to share what we see, not only the dreamy part, but also what we think is wrong. That’s the direction of our focus for the next month.

TOJ:  With regards to the environment, climate change, etc, you’ve been in contact with it every day, from flying to diving, and everything in between. Did you have any moments where you said “wow, the climate is really changing”

Tom: One of our main concerns is plastic in the ocean. Unlike the CO2 emissions, this is a kind of pollution that you can see, that you can witness. The other day, whilst we were in the Azores, we saw seven big sea turtles. When you get close to them they get scared and usually go under water, but one was chewing a piece of white plastic, because it looked like jellyfish. She wouldn’t let it go and looked a bit sick. We don’t really realise how bad it is for the environment and we’ve been throwing plastic in the ocean for many years now. It’s difficult to acknowledge, because it’s difficult to count all the fish in the water; but when we speak with the locals and fishermen that have been sailing for 40 years, they all reach the same conclusion: we’ve reached a limit. We’ve gone too far and we now need to realise it.

Tom de Dorlodot

As a paraglider I’m super concerned about the weather, I have to look for stability and good weather to fly. When you speak with the local pilots, for example in the Canary Islands, where they started flying over 25 years ago, they say “we used to have better days, more stable conditions”. Everyone tends to say that everything is more extreme now. It moves you. When you’re connected to nature every day, it’s different then when you’re living in a city.

“You eat your sandwich wrapped in plastic and it looks normal, but if you live on the sea and you see a piece of plastic every 40 meters, you realise there is something wrong.”

Sofia: Now we have an opportunity to change habits. For example, when we go to the supermarket, we can only take the vegetable that are not wrapped in plastic. Our amount of waste has beed reduced drastically.

Tom de Dorlodot

Tom: I wish we could catch more fish, but sometimes it feels like the sea is empty. We didn’t manage to catch a single fish from the Azores to here (Ireland). We have good techniques, but we caught nothing. Then you come to Ireland, and you see massive boats dragging the ocean and taking tons of fish out of the water each day. We are really trying to make an effort on this side and I think it’s going to get better, but sometimes it’s impossible: you go to the supermarket and it’s plastic everywhere, everything is wrapped into plastic. I think now the consumer has the power to change this, by not buying things wrapped into plastic, and this can make a difference.

Benoit Delfosse

TOJ: You’ve embraced “a life with less” philosophy with regards to materialism, what have you found is really indispensable? What did you think was going to be essential, but actually wasn’t?

Tom: I think that nothing is essential at the end of the day. You need good food, healthy food, you need to catch a fish now and then.

“Fashion:”we are not into it, we try to just work with responsible brands…”

We are in a little bubble, for sure, but we’re not trying to live outside society, we are just on another page now. This kind of trip changes you, for sure.

TOJ: Do you receive clothing throughout the year, through your sponsors, or you just have a set of clothes from a year ago that you re-use endlessly?

Tom: We work with Patagonia and they have a “worn-wear” philosophy. You have to use your clothing until they are completely destroyed, and even then we can still fix it. We like it when your jacket looks used, and they want you to use it until the very end. Now we have a complete set, and I don’t think we will need a new one from the new collection. If we do, our old set of clothes will go to Pakistan, to the high-altitude porters that will need it more than us. We are happy to work with Patagonia who is trying to be eco-responsible in a way.

TOJ: One last thing about last year: scariest moment?

Tom: At the beginning when we left the Baleares and we went to Gibraltar, we got stuck in a thunderstorm in the middle of the sea. We took the sails out, and for 2 hours we were fighting in really heavy conditions, massive waves, with thunder all around us. At every lightning strike you think “ok, the next one is for me”. If it strikes you or your boat, you sink pretty fast. That was super scary. But we stayed focused, we stayed calm.

“It’s a very big lesson of humility, being on the ocean out there, you feel like you’re nothing. It’s impressive.”

TOJ: What’s next?

Tom: We are going to Scotland next week. From Scotland, further North, to the Shetland Island, and from there we cross to Norway. We think we will be there end of July, and we will spend a month / a month and a half in Norway; and then back down to Belgium. I have to go to Turkey for another expedition, but with 4x4s this time, with the SEARCH project team. We have 2 Amaroks (VW pick up) because Horacio is also sponsored by VW now, and with the roof-tents, a cameraman plus the photographer (John Stapels) we will do a kind of “old school” SEARCH project. Dirt bags, small budget, searching for places to fly. I think Turkey has lots of potential. Then we take the boat back to the Canary Islands, and from there we cross the Atlantic.

You can follow Search Projects on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

You can find Tom on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

You can find Sofia on Instagram.

Find your own sustainable paragliding or sailing trip on OutdoorVoyage.com

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Adventure Travel

Jun 21, 2017

Adventurers Taking ‘Vanlife’ to a New Level with Sailing SEARCH Project

Sofia Pineiro and professional paragliding pilot, Thomas de Dorlodot, are about to leave their home (but not their friends), to sail around the world on their latest, and arguably biggest, SEARCH Project yet.

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WRITTEN BY

Alyssa Fowler

They’ll be finding the most beautiful places on the planet to paraglide, dive and surf, have professional athletes and friends join them along the way, all while we share their stories, photos and videos throughout the journey. Their only goals: seek intensity.

“Surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel, energies are contagious.” Rachel Wolchin

This has certainly been no problem for these two adventurers, athletes and nomads.

Photo by John Stapels

Meet Sofia & Tom:

Sofia Pineiro  & Thomas de Dorlodot have spent their lives following their passions, and it’s taken them all over the place. Tom, a professional paragliding pilot from Belgium, has been exploring high altitudes since he was a teenager. He became the first pilot to fly over the Machu Pichu in 2008—simultaneously making him a “guest” in the local jail for a night—and competes in the Red Bull X-Alps (known as the world’s toughest adventure race). 

Tom: “We fell in love directly.” Sofia: “Not exactly, but pretty close”

Sofia is Argentinian, born in Paraguay and the daughter of a diplomat, making her more than familiar with a lifetime of travelling. “That was always a part of me, the travelling and the languages, meeting different people from different cultures,” she says.

And that is exactly what ended up bringing the two together.

“When I graduated from school in Rabat, Morocco, I came back to Belgium to study. After completing two years in acting school, studying communications was where I met Tom.”

It was kind of funny because I met Sofia and I was about to go to Pakistan for 6 weeks, we were going to cross the Karakorum glaciers on foot and paragliding with friends [Horacio Llorens, Krystle Wright and Hernan Pitocco], and I said that I would be leaving the next week. And she said, ‘maybe I could come?’

After only five days of knowing each other, followed by a month of sporadic phone calls while Tom was in Pakistan, “both of us had pretty much forgotten what the other person even looked like,” says Sofia. But she made the jump, flew to Pakistan and made it the very symbolic place it now is for the two of them.

“We started doing projects together, not really realising it was going towards an official sort of collaboration between him and I. It felt natural and we kept creating projects together that took us all around the world.”

“And now here we are with this boat!”

SEARCH ANTHOLOGY from SEARCH Projects on Vimeo.


The Plan:

“The only plan is that there is no plan,” Tom says.

Well, there is a general idea: Using the 12m sailboat as base camp for themselves and their large network of athletes, adventurers and photographers, they will continue their exploration of new, beautiful places to do the sports they love. “The plan is also to invite professional surfers, kitesurfers, other paragliding pilots, to join us and go on adventures with us” says Tom. Other than that, Sofia says, “we haven’t decided exactly how we’re going to do it. We want to leave as much as we can to spontaneity—always looking for the unexpected.”

Photo of Tom taken by their good friend—and one of our badass female photographers, Krystle Wright.

The Inspiration

Three years ago, having gone on an expedition for over two months across the Pacific Ocean on a catamaran through French Polynesia, Tahiti, Marcus Islands and more, Tom says “that’s when I really fell in love with sailing. The way you travel with a boat, using only the wind and having all the paragliders on board. The best thing is that you can bring all your tools on the boat, you bring your toys with you. But because you don’t have a lot of room, you have to decide what is important. And that’s where the idea really started.”

Sofia: “It was the classic daydreaming conversation of ‘one day we should sail around the world’. But once he came back, we started talking about it in a more realistic way. ‘You know, why not? This is something we could both do and something we’ve both always wanted.’ I’ve always been more a water person than a mountain person, so it fit perfectly that we could do something with both elements.”

Completely agreeing with our views here at The Outdoor Journal, Sofia and Tom have also taken much of their inspiration from ‘a life with less’. Less stuff, more experiences and the richness that can bring. Further proving this, they spent last summer living in a tiny house—we’ll even go so far as to use the word ‘adorable’ to describe it.

Simple is better. Photo by Thomas de Dorlodot

Sofia told us, “I think people have already experienced this excess, working hard and having more, and just being surrounded by very material objects. People started going the other way. We’re trying to get rid of everything unnecessary and only focus on the essentials. This is so much more important than surrounding yourself with so many things. It’s a lifestyle, a mentality, and a healthy way of living—with balance.”

Learning this gradually through his years of experience, Tom adds, “When I was on an expedition, crossing a mountain range, I would have to take as little as possible with me. You have to be when you’re carrying everything on your back. At the end of the day, I realised ‘okay, I don’t really need much’. As well, travelling around the world, going to Pakistan or Africa, you meet people that have very little, yet they are always really happy to share everything they have. It gets more human. It’s back to humanity again, in a cultural way, and it’s natural.”

You can try to make as much money as possible, have your vacation days, the classic life, but at the end of the day, people don’t really seem happy with that.

Needless to say, they’re taking it to a new level by bringing that tiny house out onto the ocean. Tom says that “like the tiny house, we want to show people that it’s possible to live this way, a low impact life. When we were working on the boat we were really working on the energy aspect, solar panels, a hydro-generator, a water pump for us to make water out of salt water, etc.”

Tom & Sofia getting ready to go—with some necessary reading material.

He adds that, “with the ocean, it is just you out there. It is the last place you can really be free. You really feel that you’re alone. I think it’s interesting to still be able to get to those places—and I think the boat is the only way.

“There’s always something to do on a sailboat.” Thomas de Dorlolot

The couple has also taken inspiration from explorer Mike Horn. After having read his book Latitude Zero 13 years ago, Tom was motivated to try and find a way make his own imprint using his sport. That pushed Tom to start attempting bigger and more extreme expeditions.

“If I’m doing what I’m doing today, it’s a little bit because of him,” Tom says. “One day, I was in Pakistan and I met him. We directly connected and talked about the mountains. He loves Pakistan too, it’s probably one of his favourite countries. He seems like a very calm and wise guy, but he’s also very funny and friendly and laughing all the time. Such a cool person.

“He did destroy my hand when we first met.”

Our Founder, Apoorva Prasad, can attest to that after spending some time racing around Namibia with Mike Horn last year.

His advice was that “you should enjoy the difficult times,” Tom says. “It has always been in very difficult situations I have thought of him: ‘what would Mike do?’ It’s a little bit ridiculous I guess, but Sofia and I talk about it a lot. At the end of the day, he’s a normal person. We know many guys who are doing their sport, their way. It’s people who’ve trained, worked a lot and prepared really well—from Mike Horn to anyone else. And we’re lucky to have many friends like that to inspire us all the time.

“It’s the only thing you can do, accept what comes. When we were in Africa and problems came up, we could either see it as negative, or see it as a challenge that there’s a solution to. And there is always a solution. So let’s find it!

“Sofia is really good at that. I can get a little bit negative, but Sofia is always smiling and ready to find a solution.”

Always smiling and ready to find a solution. Photo by Thomas de Dorlodot

 

The Preparation

“We were both basically starting from scratch,” says Tom. “We did some courses. We learned all the theory, took some exams, the license to be a skipper. And it took awhile because at the same time, we had a lot of work between the different projects (other Search projects, Young Adventurers, upcoming paragliding competitions, and more) that we were working on. It’s been really intense.”

Always SEARCHing. Photo by John Stapels

We can imagine! The Red Bull X-Alps 2017 starts at the end of this month—where, just in case you’re unfamiliar, Tom and 31 other athletes will race a straight-line distance of 1,138km across the Alps to Monaco, through 7 different countries, using both paragliding skills and extreme endurance.

All this while, making sure the boat was ready to go for their sailing adventure shortly after the race. Needless to say, they both have had a lot on their plates, but that seems to be the way Sofia and Tom both work.

Sofia: With all the challenges we really learned a lot. It was part of our intention to be a part of every step along the way—not to just hire people and go to the boat when it was ready. We needed to learn how our boat works. Which has been a really rich experience.

For Tom, having been working on his own craft of paragliding for so many years, it has been like going back to school. “There are a lot of parallels though. When you’re in the mountains there are so many factors, the winds, working with a team, etc., and then you go to the sea and you see why a lot of mountaineers like the sea, and sailors like the mountains. 

At the end of the day, it’s all about nature. We just want to be out there as much as possible.

Photo by John Stapels

Expectations

“We are basically searching for intensity,” says Tom. “It’s cool to travel around on a sailboat when every day will be different. It’s not going to be easy, living on a 10 square meter space. We’re going to have hard days and good days, and we’re going to have to fix problems all the time. But we know that already. We’re really luck to be surrounded by really cool people and experts that have helped us and will train us even more before we head out.

He continues, “But as a couple, the plan is to make a big family. Some little guys sailing around? We will see how it goes.” This was followed by some nervous and excited giggles, but Tom assures us that “it was part of the plan. I was travelling around so much on big expeditions that Sofia could not always be a part of. We wanted to get closer. That was important. To engineer our life together, it could not be me leaving all the time. It is about finding a way to grow together—and the boat project has been amazing for that.

Oh, and in case you were wondering hoping, there will be a wedding!

Although they are officially already married as far as the Belgian government is concerned, Sofia and Tom will be holding the “big party” for friends and family in Majorca in September. Sailing there (of course), it will be their first big leg of the trip.

Learning to scuba dive before the trip, Sofia says “When he’s up flying altitude, I’ll be deep down under water. And I think that’s how a couple works.”

“We’re not the first people to sail around the world, even with families,” says Tom. “It’s not new, but we want to bring it to the next level and do it differently, really explore and get off the beaten path. As far as possible.

“We also want to share as much as we can. We want good photos, good stories and good memories and we want to share with the people who might not be able to do the same at this time, so they can follow us and get inspired. That’s part of our goal, to show people that it’s a lot of work, you’re learning bit by bit, you meet the right people, and then one day you wake up and you’re sailing around the world. Just make it happen.”

The Outdoor Journal will be excitedly following Tom, Sofia and The SEARCH sailboat around on their MANY upcoming adventures. We’ll be relaying their stories, photos and videos on our website and social media as they come in.

Tom & Sofia will also be holding a press conference to announce this exciting trip Thursday, June 22nd at the Brussels Royal Yachting Club. Stay tuned for our coverage of the event.

Feature image by John Stapels

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